Monday, December 03, 2007

Cute video on Instant Runoff Voting

This has been a bit more of a focus lately from a discussion standpoint in relation to a radio interview that I'm going to do today that I'll follow up with more information on later. Yet I wanted to share this video, it's cute and to the point...



Misleading Voters is Not Cute

While it's clear that our traditional "vote for one" (plurality) voting system is inexcusable, Instant Runoff Voting is not much better - and there are many better simpler solutions. There is also a great deal of public misunderstanding and misinformation surrounding IRV, largely the result of the IRV propaganda organization, FairVote.

One common myth is that IRV elects "majority winners". But IRV can lead to the election of candidate X, even when candidate Y is preferred to X by a huge majority. Consider this hypothetical IRV election.

#voters - their vote
10 G > C > P > M
3 C > G > P > M
5 C > P > M > G
6 M > P > C > G
4 P > M > C > G

C is the clear Condorcet (condor-SAY) winner, meaning he is preferred by a landslide majority over all his individual rivals. He is preferred over G, P, and M all by an 18-10 margin.

But... M wins, even though he also has fewer first-place votes (6 voters) than C with 8.


1. P is preferred to M by 22 of the 28 voters, yet he's the first candidate eliminated.
2. G also has more first-place votes (10) than M's 6.
3. So M either loses pairwise to, or has fewer first-place votes than (or both) every rival, but still IRV elects M.

Notice that the first group of voters could have caused C to win if they had only "lied", and put him first in their list. That would mean they'd get their second favorite instead of their fourth favorite. Statistical analysis reveals that this strategy is advised for all candidates who don't appear to have at least a 20% chance of winning. That means that, contrary to FairVote propaganda, IRV does not let you "vote your hopes, not your fears". And this means that IRV effectively degrades toward plain old plurality (vote-for-one) voting. This is explained in more detail here, by math experts:

Election integrity experts and activists, like computer science Ph.D. Rebecca Mercuri disapprove of IRV because it is conducive to the adoption of fraud-susceptible electronic voting machines. IRV is also more susceptible to fraud because it is not countable in precincts. That is, candidate A could win every individual precinct, but bizarrely lose when the ballots are all summed together - which enforces centralized tabulation, which is more susceptible to central fraud conspiracy. And IRV typically causes spoiled ballots to go up by a factor of about 7.

A much simpler and far better system is Approval Voting. It's just like the current system, except that there is no limit on the number of candidates one may vote for. While it may seem initially less intuitive than ranking choices, deep scrutiny shows that Approval Voting produces a far more representative outcome, and is less harmed by problems like strategic voting. This is shown through an objective economic measure called Bayesian regret, which shows how well a particular voting method tends to satisfy the preferences of the voters. The improvement gotten by Approval Voting relative to IRV is especially large if the voters are strategic, as was described above (although FairVote promoters will often falsely claim that the best strategy with Approval Voting is to "bullet vote"). See:

If we don't mind a somewhat more cluttered ballot, we can upgrade to Range Voting, which uses a ratings scale, like Olympics scoring. It is arguably more intuitive, and produces phenomenal Bayesian regret results, meaning more satisfied voters, and more competitive nominees, if used for a party's nomination process (i.e. a big strategic advantage).

For a look at how the major parties could become dramatically more competitive by merely adopting Range Voting or Approval Voting, see:

Election reformers must be diligent and do their research. Don't be misled by FairVote's clever marketing. Look at what Ivy League mathematicians and political science experts such as Steve Brams, who write entire books on this stuff, say. FairVote has an agenda, and it's definitely not in the pubic's best interest.

Clay Shentrup
San Francisco, CA

Hooda Thunkit said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Hooda Thunkit said...

"FairVote has an agenda, and it's definitely not in the public's best interest."

I'm fairly sure that I followed all of that but I'm sure that I understood the above quoted message right off.

Jack Boyd said...

Well, you also can look at all the places using instant runoff voting -- including whole nations, many cities and dozens of student elections at colleges and universities (none of which use approval or range voting).

FairVote's agenda ( seems to be to support voting methods that encourage majority rule and voter choice. Is that a problem?



If your point is that IRV is better than Range Voting and Approval Voting because it's used more elections, then I guess you'd also have to say that plurality voting is better than either. Moral: It is naive to confuse popularity with quality. Experts who study voting methods through objective scientific metrics find that IRV is one of the worst methods, and Range/Approval Voting effectively the best.

You also made a false statement when you said no colleges use Approval Voting, because just off the top of my head, I know it's used in the Academic Senate in San Francisco State University.

You also misunderstand FairVote's agenda. Their goal is to have proportional representation in multi-winner elections, and they believe IRV is a stepping stone to the STV proportional voting system. If their goal was "majority rule", they wouldn't support IRV, since it can result in a win for candidate X, even though Y was preferred to X by a large majority.

IRV got the jump on Range and Approval Voting, by a good 100+ years (during which time were made most of the important discoveries in the science of election theory), so it's no surprise that it has seen wider use. But that's no reason to give up on simpler and substantially more democratic systems.

I suggest you read William Poundstone's forthcoming book Gaming the Vote, which Kenneth Arrow himself calls "a must-read for anyone interested in the process and outcomes of voting", and which promotes Range Voting as "fairest voting method of all".

Warren D. Smith, the book's protagonist says of FairVote

"[FairVote] has utter disrespect for
academic knowledge and theory, and is only interested in political 'reality.' I.e., whatever they can do to get what they want, even if it means covering up the truth. FairVote wants, in the end, something pretty good [proportional representation]; but the problem is that they, long ago, settled on a strategy that involves promoting something not good [IRV] on the grounds that it involves some small improvement in some ways, it can be sold because it looks good to the naive, and the expense of it is precisely the expense involved in setting up STV elections [i.e. ranked ballots], which they see as needed for Proportional Representation, their real goal.

(Of course, PR can be done with simpler methods than STV, with little or no ballot complication, a standard Count All the Votes ballot would work just fine with Asset Voting, which can produce near-perfect PR, better than STV even. But, of course, Asset Voting is a door into direct democracy, and, horrors! That would involve giving power to the great unwashed. If we come to the point where PR is politically practical, I seriously doubt that voting complication would be a serious obstacle.)"

I wish you'd spend less time trying to defend your IRV loyalty, and more time studying the issue with an open mind, and coming to understand why experts (Hillinger, Smith, Brams, etc.) don't support IRV.